In this breakdown, we will take a look at the mat work and ground game of Khabib Nurmagomedov. It is a style that is often characterised by relentless top pressure with a superior head position, pinned on the chest or under the chin of his opponent stifling the shoulder movement while throwing scoring punches and elbows.
Open Guard Punch to Pass
But Khabib has a diverse array of techniques that we’ll be taking a closer look at here. The first of these is from an open guard position. When Khabib is standing he will launch in with a leaping overhand right in an attempt to pass the guard of his opponent and cause damage while doing so. The overhand to guard pass is a technique that was also employed by his countryman Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib even used it once to score a TKO victory.
Knee Slice & Tripod Passing
Once Khabib has engaged his opponent on the ground from either full guard or half guard he will look to pass using a knee slice. This is where Khabib raises his hips and knees higher than his opponents by beginning to stand and then dropping one knee back down to the mat while slicing his shinbone across his opponent’s thighs. This is a passingstrategy that was often employed by George St. Pierre and is ideally done with an underhook on the far side arm, but Khabib will even attempt to with an overhook. An interesting strategy of Khabib is that when attempting the knee slice pass, he is not always looking to pass the guard entirely. If he gets his ankle stuck in quarter guard, he will begin to throw punches and elbows at his opponent. He will often camp from this position using it to gain posture while his opponent is stuck below him and then starts to throw heavy shots.
Knee on Neck Ride
Another technique he will use when in a quarter guard or even from knee on belly is to use a shin or knee on neck ride. This is where he pins his opponent’s neck by forcing his knee or shin down onto their throat which gives him additional control and posture to strike while making it extremely uncomfortable for his opponent.
Double Wrist Lock
Once he passes into side control one of his attacks is to look for the double wrist lock, where once he has control of the arm he moves his hips towards his opponent’s head while applying torque to their shoulder. Currently he successfully finished two fights using this technique. But his preferred technique from side control is to look for the topside crucifix. Which he will even move into directly from a knee slice pass after pinning his opponent’s arm with his far knee.
The topside crucifix is a powerful control position the traps both his opponent’s arms leaving their face defenceless to Khabibs punches and elbows. While these punches are not the most powerful, they accumulate damage and drain the energy of his opponent. This technique utilises a concept that I like to think of is putting your opponent into a positional deficit. This is where you have now made your opponent’s primary goal into escaping the crucifix but even if they do achieve that they will still find themselves trapped in side control.
If Khabib moves from side control to mount his favourite technique is to then transition into S-Mount. This is where one of your feet is brought forward past your opponent’s shoulder which roughly puts your leg into an S shape where the position gets its name. While this does leave your opponent’s hips free, it places all your weight down onto their chest and put you in an excellent position to attack their arms. From the S-Mount, Khabib will then attack with his favourite two submissions which are the triangle and the armbar. If his opponent gets their firearm underneath his leg, he will fall to his back while pulling his opponent on top and locking up the triangle choke. If they have their arm on the inside, he will drop to his back and attack the armbar. If they resist the armbar he will happily pepper them with strikes. He will also smoothly chain the two submission attacks together depending on the reaction of his opponent. Here he attacks with the armbar but as his opponent regains posture, he switches to a triangle choke.
It might seem odd for grappler more known for their crushing top game to have a preference for submissions off his back, But Khabib does have a very aggressive guard game where if he is taken down he offensively looks for triangles and armbars which he will use to submit or sweep or even regain position. While I have shown some of Khabibs common habits even more impressive is the wide variety of technical moves he has executed once but only when they were required by the situation.
A depth of Grappling Techniques
This hints at the real depth of his game which is continuously evolving to use more advanced concepts, for instance, utilising headbutts from the closed guard when the rules allowed it, using a body triangle to control the back or employing an octopus guard to regain a standing position. From the knee slice pass cradling his opponent’s leg. Even using the folk style wrestling cowcatcher to put his opponent back on the mat, defending a single-leg attempt with a belly roll and from a single leg ride using inside wrist control to continually break his opponent’s posture and using a full leg mount against the cage.
In conclusion, although fighting infrequently, Khabibs ground game went through massive evolutions in his last two fights against Darrell Horcher and Michael Johnson. If it continues at this pace, it will be fascinating to see what techniques Khabib continues to utilise into the future.